Weird History
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The Most Important Leaders in U.S. History

Updated January 25, 2021 251.5k votes 17.8k voters 286.1k views432 items

List RulesAmerican leaders only. Note: "Most important" or "most influential" does not equal "best."

List of the most important leaders in U.S. history. Love 'em or hate 'em, these leaders shaped American history from its founding through today. Men and women who have truly defined America through their work and leadership, even if it did not mean serving political office, are ranked here on this master list of leaders. Pioneers who changed the landscape, from the Civil Rights Movement, to Women's Suffrage, to the atom bomb, appear on this list of American leaders who changed the world.

The most important American presidents are ranked here, like Harry S. Truman and George Washington to name a few, along with First Ladies like Eleanor Roosevelt. Industry leaders like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller cannot be overlooked, nor can leaders who were not in the U.S. government itself, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Susan B. Anthony.

Leadership takes many forms throughout American history, and famous American leaders pervade all of history, but this list gives props to those who were the most influential. Vote up the most important U.S. leaders below, or if the United States is too small for you, make sure to peruse this list of The Most Important Leaders in World History.
  • 1

    George Washington

    Dec. at 67 (1732-1799)

    BirthplaceVirginia, United States of America

    George Washington was the first President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He presided over the convention...  more
  • 2

    Benjamin Franklin

    Dec. at 84 (1706-1790)

    BirthplaceEastern United States, Boston, Area code 617, New England, United States of America

    Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 [O.S. January 6, 1705] – April 17, 1790) was an American polymath and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Franklin was a leading author, printer,...  more
  • 3

    Abraham Lincoln

    Dec. at 56 (1809-1865)

    BirthplaceHodgenville, Kentucky, USA

    Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American statesman and lawyer who served as the 16th president of the United States from 1861 until his assassination in April 1865....  more
  • 4

    Thomas Jefferson

    Dec. at 83 (1743-1826)

    BirthplaceShadwell, Virginia, United States of America

    Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and the third President of the United States. He was a spokesman for democracy, and embraced...  more
  • 5

    Theodore Roosevelt

    Dec. at 61 (1858-1919)

    BirthplaceNew York City, Manhattan, USA, New York

    Theodore Roosevelt Jr. ( ROH-zə-velt; October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919) was an American statesman, politician, conservationist, naturalist, and writer who served as the 26th president of the...  more
  • 6

    John Adams

    Dec. at 91 (1735-1826)

    BirthplaceBraintree, Massachusetts, United States of America

    John Adams Jr. (October 30, 1735 – July 4, 1826) was an American statesman, attorney, diplomat, writer, and Founding Father who served as the second president of the United States from 1797 to 1801....  more
  • 7

    Alexander Hamilton

    Dec. at 47 (1757-1804)

    BirthplaceCharlestown, Saint Kitts and Nevis

    Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1755 or 1757 – July 12, 1804) was an American statesman, politician, legal scholar, military commander, lawyer, banker and economist. He was one of the Founding...  more
  • 8

    Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Dec. at 39 (1929-1968)

    BirthplaceAtlanta, Georgia, United States of America

    Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement from 1955...  more
  • 9

    Dwight D. Eisenhower

    Dec. at 79 (1890-1969)

    BirthplaceDenison, Texas, United States of America

    Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower ( EYE-zən-how-ər; October 14, 1890 – March 28, 1969) was an American army general and statesman who served as the 34th president of the United States from 1953 to 1961....  more
  • 10

    George S. Patton

    Dec. at 60 (1885-1945)

    BirthplaceSan Gabriel, California

     (November 11, 1885 – December 21, 1945)
    George Smith Patton Jr. (November 11, 1885 – December 21, 1945) was a General of the United States Army who commanded the U.S. Seventh Army in the Mediterranean theater of World War II, and the U.S....  more
  • 11

    Franklin D. Roosevelt

    Dec. at 63 (1882-1945)

    BirthplaceNew York City, Hyde Park, New York, USA

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt (, ; January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945), often referred to by initials FDR, was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd president of the United...  more
  • 12
    The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were two American brothers, inventors, and aviation pioneers who are credited with inventing and building the world's first successful airplane and making the...  more
  • 13

    Nikola Tesla

    Dec. at 87 (1856-1943)

    BirthplaceSmiljan, Croatia

    Nikola Tesla was a Serbian American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current...  more
  • 14

    Samuel Adams

    Dec. at 81 (1722-1803)

    BirthplaceBoston, Massachusetts, United States of America

    Samuel Adams (September 27 [O.S. September 16] 1722 – October 2, 1803) was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was a politician in...  more
  • 15
    Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey; c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from...  more
  • 16

    James Madison

    Dec. at 85 (1751-1836)

    BirthplacePort Conway, Virginia, United States of America

    James Madison Jr. (March 16, 1751 – June 28, 1836) was an American statesman, lawyer, diplomat, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the fourth president of the United States from 1809 to...  more
  • 17

    Alexander Graham Bell

    Dec. at 75 (1847-1922)

    BirthplaceEdinburgh, United Kingdom

    Alexander Graham Bell ('Graham' pronounced ) (March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922) was a Scottish-born American inventor, scientist, and engineer who is credited with inventing and patenting the first...  more
  • 18

    John Hancock

    Dec. at 56 (1737-1793)

    BirthplaceBraintree, Massachusetts, United States of America

    John Hancock (January 23, 1737 [O.S. January 12, 1736] – October 8, 1793) was an American merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution. He served as president of the Second...  more
  • 19

    Ronald Reagan

    Dec. at 93 (1911-2004)

    BirthplaceWhiteside County, Illinois, United States of America, United States, with Territories

    Ronald Wilson Reagan (; February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was an American politician who served as the 40th president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Prior to his presidency, he was a...  more
  • 20

    Ulysses S. Grant

    Dec. at 63 (1822-1885)

    BirthplacePoint Pleasant, Ohio, United States of America

    Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant; April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885) was an American soldier, politician, and international statesman who served as the 18th president of the United States from...  more
  • 21

    Jonas Salk

    Dec. at 81 (1914-1995)

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York

    Jonas Edward Salk (; October 28, 1914 – June 23, 1995) was an American medical researcher and virologist. He discovered and developed one of the first successful polio vaccines. Born in New York...  more
  • 22

    Meriwether Lewis

    Dec. at 35 (1774-1809)

    BirthplaceIvy, Virginia, United States of America

    Meriwether Lewis (August 18, 1774 – October 11, 1809) was an American explorer, soldier, politician, and public administrator, best known for his role as the leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition,...  more
  • 23

    Harry S. Truman

    Dec. at 88 (1884-1972)

    BirthplaceLamar, Missouri, United States of America

    Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884 – December 26, 1972) was the 33rd president of the United States from 1945 to 1953, succeeding upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt after serving as vice president. He...  more
  • 24

    Thomas Edison

    Dec. at 84 (1847-1931)

    BirthplaceOhio, Milan, United States, with Territories, Erie County

    Thomas Alva Edison (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931) was an American inventor and businessman who has been described as America's greatest inventor. He developed many devices in fields such as...  more
  • 25

    James Monroe

    Dec. at 73 (1758-1831)

    BirthplaceMonroe Hall, Virginia, United States of America

    James Monroe (; April 28, 1758 – July 4, 1831) was an American statesman, lawyer, diplomat and Founding Father who served as the fifth president of the United States from 1817 to 1825. A member of...  more